The last time Barry Sonnenfield directed Will Smith, in the averagely-received Men in Black sequel, he was pretty successful. 10 years later, with a portfolio now including I, Robot, I am Legend, Hitch, Hancock and Seven Pounds, he's a global phenomenon. This must make him a bit harder to boss around, surely?
"I wouldn't want to be working with Will if we were in total disagreement," agrees Sonnenfield, in London for Men in Black 3.
"Now he's this big superstar. He has the same enthusiasm, joy, optimism, self-confidence and energy, but now he also has even more power. But we were always in total agreement, we saw the same movie, so Will's power only makes it easier for me. In agreement, there's nothing better."
Even Will's charisma couldn't prevent the wheels coming off the first sequel a decade ago - so how did the team find the enthusiasm to get back to work?
"By 3, everyone's an expert," Sonnenfield reflects wearily. "They all know exactly what the movie needs… but what was great about 3 was that we had a great concept, and a great idea. It was actually Will's idea.
"He pointed out that, in any trilogy, the third is always the most emotional or romantic. And I felt that, to make Men in Black 3 well, we had to make sure there was enough familiar stuff about their relationship (between Agents J and K - Smith and Tommy Lee Jones respectively), but show them going through 'marital problems'.
So we had confidence. 1 and 3 are definitely the two best films."
I'm glad he said that, so we can tacitly agree to gloss over the sequel. In Men in Black 3, Agent J travels back in time to encounter a younger, cheerier K, as well as lots of iconic 1969 hot spots – the streets of New York, Andy Warhol’s famous Factory party palace, and finally, Cape Canaveral in time for the departure of Apollo 11, where Sonnenfield had fun with the story of the famous rocket launch, even putting some words in the mouths of Messrs Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins.
Did he have to warn NASA that he played with their special bit of history?
"They have seen the movie, they loved it," Sonnenfield confirms, happily straightening his zapping orange tie. "You can’t shoot anything without them agreeing ahead of the time. But we didn’t go to the moon and imply there was a secret – we didn’t do Transformers 3."
But for all the picturesque trappings, the success of Men in Black 3 comes down to the chemistry between the dark-suited ones - something on which Sonnenfield has spent a lot of time:
"Every actor is like your child, and every child needs slightly different attention, discipline, different ways of hugging. With Tommy, it's very few words, very little discussion.
"Will and I have much longer discussions, because he's not only the actor, but has also been involved in the structure and story-telling.
"I think if there’s a Men in Black 4..." Sonnenfield won't be drawn any further on this... "it would be different again – I think we would make sure Will was allowed to only be an actor, and not also have to worry about story and structure."
What about the story for a fourth? Sonnenfield strokes his tie again. "There's a plan."
Men in Black is in UK cinemas this Friday 25 May. Here they are in action...
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